Do After School Programs Help at Risk Students

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The target of my study is to find out if programs, such as the 21st Century’s After School Programs truly help students who are low performers increase their GPA’s, versus their low performing peers who do not attend one of these programs. All participants of this study attend a very small school and have access to this program 4 days a week, all students are exposed to a one-hour session of academics and a one-hour session of a fun activity. Participants can participate in activities such as STEM, outdoor education, physical activity, cultural and multicultural. It is my belief that students who are at a slightly lower GPA that attend one of these programs will have a high GPA when they have been there for a 5-year span. As a Mom of a Low Performing (LP) student, I have an interest in finding out if these programs do help these children catch up with their peers.

As parents, we want to give our children the best education that we have the means to provide. Parents of students who are considered Low Performing (LP), based on standardized testing; look for ways to help their children catch up with their non-low performing peers. For some parents there are programs that are funded by 21st Century that provide children with a place to go after school for two hours. During these two hours, the students are offered an extra hour of academic help, and then they have the chance to take part in other academically rich activities.

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When parents hear the words, “Your child is low-performing in math or reading,” it makes you wonder what you can do to help your child catch up with their peers and the “normal” scores rang that is dictated by the State. For me, my answer was to enroll my five-year-old son in his school’s ASP. I knew that he could get the extra help he needed in math, his low performing subject and get to have some fun with activities that I couldn’t provide for him at home. While our ASP is a very small program, with an average of 50 students a day attending, and the majority being elementary age; that still accounts for the vast majority of our Pre-K-12th grade school. Given that our school is so small, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with him at the ASP and see what goes on there, they make learning fun for them and the enrichment activities provided give them the chance to explore and learn more without realizing they have. The academic hour session breaks the students up into small groups and allows them for more one on one time with the ASP staff, which consists of teachers and other school staff.

How is a student determined as a low-performer? It’s based of Proficiency scores, and the scores that they get when they take a State standardized test, then it’s applied to the scores that have been determined “below normal”, “normal”, “above normal” ranges. The good news is that students can overcome being a low-performer in their subject, some students lack the confidence in themselves when they take a test; while others struggle with the content and need extra help to learn the fundamentals to help make them successful in the subject that challenges them the most.

Beyond grade retention and social promotion: Promoting the social and academic competence of students published in Psychology in the Schools Volume 43, Issue 1 and written by Shane R. Jimerson, Sarah M. W. Pletcher, Kelly Graydon, Britton L. Schnurr, Amanda B. Nickerson and Deborah K Kundert; points out, “During the past decade, amidst the current context emphasizing educational standards and accountability, the practice of grade retention has increased. The call for an end to social promotion has generated a variety of recommendations and legislation regarding promotion policies.” (Jimerson, Pletcher, Graydon, Schnurr, & Kundert, 2005). This article speaks to the fact that intervention strategies are likely to help students who are on the lower academic side of the scale to become more competent in their studies. These are the students who are at risk of or already have a lower school performance than that of their same aged peers. Is it possible that the additional time each week that these children receive truly boost the academic performance of these students? By attending and After School Program (ASP), students have the potential to work in smaller sized groups and get some individualized attention to help them understand the subjects that they struggle most in.

While continuing my research about interest I came across an article titled An Ecological Analysis of After-School Program Participation and the Development of Academic Performance and Motivational Attributes for Disadvantaged Children. This article written by, Joseph L. Mahoney, Heather Lord and Erica Carryl refers to a longitudinal study which assessed an after-school program or ASP, their interest was whether the participation would help student’s who were disadvantaged fare better in school. According to this study there were many participants, 599 to be exact, this was a mixture of male and female students from an urban and disadvantaged city school in the United States. According to this study, children who were part of the ASP rather than other sources of after school care or activities had a significantly higher performance than their peers. (Mahoney, Lord, & Carryl, 2005)

The overall determining factor appeared to be the type of after school care that these students had throughout the academic year. Students in this study either attended an ASP, were in the care of their parents, an older sibling or an alternative place of care. What the study found was, students who had strong interactions and regular attendance with and ASP were the ones who did have the academic advantage. While this study was done over only a one-year time frame, I’m curious as to whether this upward swing in student’s academic career that attended the ASP would continue. The students who didn’t attend an After-School Program and had an alternative after school care didn’t end up doing as well as their peers did when it came to the repeat standardized testing that was done later in the school year. The quality of care a child or youth receives plays a huge role in their overall performance in school; having a safe place to go after school hours, with activities to do that provide fun and academic enrichment only play to this. Providing students with a place to go that encourages them to continue learning through fun enrichment activities and giving them access to extra time with their teachers can be a real game changer in the lives of the students who are low-performing.

Deborah Lowe Vandell, Elizabeth R. Reisner and Kim M. Pierce published an article in October of 2007 titled Outcomes Linked to High-Quality Afterschool Programs: Longitudinal Findings from the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs. Like one of the other studies that I have cited this study followed a group of disadvantaged students for a long period of time and was also a study that ran for a full academic year. This study followed children who were of elementary and middle school aged. The program’s offerings were free of charge to the families and offered not only academic help but other academic enrichment opportunities for its participants. Looking at this age group would help give the authors the best information possible, this is an age group that is going to be more likely to want to attend an After-School Program. Programs like the ASP are tailored to the younger school children demographic, they know that it’s going to be easier to get the students interested in coming, parents are going to enjoy that it’s a safe and free place for their children to be until they’re done work for the day. High school aged youth are less likely to attend an ASP, so it would be harder to follow them for a longitudinal study on this topic. High school students may have attended the after-school program when they were in elementary and middle school, and benefited from the offerings, now they might have an after-school job or play a sport. What they took away from their ASP years when they were younger helped to shape them into who they are as teenagers. Their academic success was likely helped by their attendance in the program, their friends who were also LP students and chose to go home after school or found some other activity might not have made the advances. That isn’t to say that those who are LP cannot overcome that without the help of their school’s ASP, however, there are benefits to the students being in a positive environment that encourages learning.

“Regular participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits among disadvantaged students.” (Vandell, Reisner, & Pierce, 2009). Not only did this study aim to find out if high-quality ASPs were linked with gains in standardized test scores, it also wanted to see if there was a link between ASPs and the behaviors of these at risk and disadvantaged youth. The study took into consideration the socio-economic background of the students it was going to follow over the course of the school’s academic year. They found that ASPs were beneficial to students who are at risk of being or are already low performers.

Yet another study appears to agree with the fact that a high-quality or well-implemented after school program can be linked to favorable and significant improvements for those students who are disadvantaged; or the ones who are at risk to become involved in risky behaviors as the age. After School Programs in the 21st Century: Their Potential and What it Takes to Achieve it; by Priscilla M. D. Little, Christopher Wimer and Heather B. Weiss, is the study that is being referenced. To quote the article, “Well-implemented programs can have a positive impact on a range of academic, social, prevention and other outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children and youth.” (Little, Wimer, & Weiss, 2008). This study like the others that I have spent the time reading over there’s many factors that are investigated when choosing the participants for the studies. These students all come from low socio-economic families, they’re at risk for developing or participating in risky behaviors and are considered disadvantaged because of their homelife. Many of these children and youth. Disadvantaged students are often the students who fall through the cracks when the struggle, they also might not the type of child to speak up when they need help because they have a fear of being laughed at. By schools offering after-school programs these students can attend and the help is offered without them asking or feeling singled out. All students must work on academics during the program, meaning there are teachers and staff available to help. The low-performers who choose not to attend the ASP are likely to go home, to a family members or friends house and play on their electronics until it’s time to go home. That doesn’t provide the encouragement, or opportunities that attending the program would.

Impacts of After-School Programs on Student Outcomes, that Susan Goerlich Zief, Sherri Lauver, and Rebecca A. Maynard put into publication; states that the number of schools that offered After-school programs doubled between 1994 and 2000. Not only did the number of schools double, but it was estimated that 6 million which is roughly 11% of school aged children and youth regularly attended their school’s ASP in the 2002-2003 academic year. One of the things that I felt stood out the most other than the fact that these programs had doubled in just a six-year span was this. “After school programs have been touted as a means to reduce such negative outcomes and promote academic, social, emotional and behavioral growth by providing positive supervision while also offering academic programming and recreational and youth development activities.” (Zief Goerlich, Lauver, & Maynard, 2006).

These reports and studies all appear to have the same conclusion, high-quality after-school programs can be linked to positive improvements in high risk and low-performing students. Is this link solely because they’ve attended an after-school program? I don’t believe it would be fair to say this is the sole contributing factor; however, the fact that it’s available for students when they need it could be a big part of their success moving forward. This is easily measured by the student’s standardized test scores; these tests are done in the fall and spring of each academic year. Looking at standardized testing in the state of Maine, that means that these students are taking tests such as the MEAs, Dibels, NWEAs and the Fountas and Pinnell tests. These tests are designed to track a student’s progress in reading and in math during their elementary years. The students are given the test in the fall and this sets an initial score for them, and there’s a range they must fall into for them to be considered low-performing or regular performing. This ranges are determined by the State of Maine; the students are determined low-performing or regular performing.

While these standardized tests determine the performance level of the student’s academics at that grade level it doesn’t give suggestions or ways to help the student move out of the low-performing ranges. This is where the After-School Programs come into play, these programs look at, at risk students and provide them with a place to go for two extra hours a day, either four or five days a week. Students who have been enrolled in an ASP and attend regularly have the advantage of the program’s offerings that their other low-performing peers do not have. This isn’t to say that ASPs only allow low-performing students, because they will take students who are not low-performing as well. However, the ASP is geared toward helping students who have been identified as LP become successful in school and other areas of their lives.

Given the information provided, my research question is; Do low-performing students who attend their school’s after-school program have better grades than their low-performing peers who do not attend? After-school programs are geared toward helping children reach academic milestones and giving them the experiences that are needed to reach them, with support along the way.

My hypothesis is that low-performing children who attend an after-school program two to three days a week, will have a higher GPA than low-performing children who don’t attend an after-school program at all. My hypothesis seems to be supported by the information in the studies that I have provided, the studies show favorable outcomes for those students who attend a high-quality program.



The participants that will be participating in this study will be a group of 6 kindergarteners. These students will be within the 5 to 6-year age range and will be students who attend their school’s ASP at least two to three days a week. The school that I will be taking the participants from is a very small school in rural Northern Maine, so the students will not be selected at random. The 6 kindergarteners who will be participating are all of the students in this age group who attend the ASP, they are also all considered LP students. I have chosen to follow this age group for the span of five years, because I feel that the younger the students are the higher the chance of them being LP is; because they are still learning fundamentals and often just need to catch up to the rest of their peers. Besides that point the younger students appear to attend more regularly than the older students who are part of the program do.


Student records. In order to test my hypothesis, I will need to obtain the student records for the 6 individual students who I am tracking. This will require me to get permission from the school and the parents of these 6 children prior to beginning my study.

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